Dealing with back pain - chronic or acute - is no fun. Those who suffer from back pain will tell you that it sometimes takes weeks or months to get better, only for a re-injury to occur and land them back at square one. It’s frustrating, painful, and detracts from your quality of life.
Now, some people have serious back injuries or conditions that can only be treated by a doctor, but many people have milder back issues that can be mitigated by changed behaviors and at-home treatments. What if you could relieve tension, reduce pain, and increase your back’s mobility just by avoiding certain things or doing new things? Let’s explore some movements to avoid and other movements and actions - like at-home back traction - to add to your daily routine.
The Worst Things for Your Back
Let’s look at some things you might be doing that aren’t doing your back any favors, and in fact, might even be causing strain or injury.
- Certain Stretches: We’ve all been told that to keep our muscles loose and increase flexibility, that it is important to stretch. A stretch that we’ve been taught since grade school P.E., all the way to yoga classes as an adult, is to stand with our legs straight and bend over to touch our toes (otherwise known as “forward fold” in yoga). It lengthens the back and stretches the hamstrings, right? But this is one of the WORST stretches for the back, according to physical therapists! It puts undue strain on the spinal discs, and it can contribute to sciatica and back pain, rather than improving them. Even worse is the “windmill” stretch that many learned when doing calisthenics: standing with legs apart, and arms out to the sides, bend over and touch your right hand to your left toe, stand straight up, and then touch your left hand to your right toes, over and over. Now you’ve added twisting to a forward bend!
An equally bad stretch that is very similar to the forward fold is to sit flat with your legs straight out in front of you and fold forward over your legs to touch your toes. It DOES stretch your hamstrings, but it also uses your body weight to hang your body forward, pulling on your spine and discs in a harmful way.
- Lifting Poorly: By now, most of us have heard the phrase, “Lift with your legs!” However, sometimes we forget that when we’re lifting a box, a potted plant, a laundry basket, or even picking up a child, we should bend our knees into a squat and use our thigh muscles to lift the weight. Instead, we simply bend over, legs straight, and pick up the object using our back. This puts tremendous strain on the spine and can lead to all kinds of back injuries.
Even bending over to pick up small, light objects can cause problems. Many people use improper form by hunching their back over, keeping their legs straight, and reaching to the floor to pick up a piece of dropped food, or a toy, or a shoe. Again, this is equivalent to the “forward fold” stretch in yoga, and the weight of the torso pulls the curved spine downward, which is never a healthy position for the back.
- Bad Posture: In this era of ubiquitous technology, humans spend more and more time sitting in front of a computer screen, or sitting hunched forward over their phone or tablet. Sometimes, we let an hour (or hours!) go by without looking up, standing up, or stretching. This contributes to “tech neck” (an unnatural forward jut to the head and neck) and spinal problems.
Of course, there’s also the poor posture that some exhibit when standing or sitting: shoulders slumped forward, abdomen loose, head forward. This type of posture strains spinal discs as well. The back is supposed to have a natural curvature, but when the shoulders hunch forward, it pulls the back out of alignment and works against the spine’s natural curve.
The Best Things You Should Be Doing for Your Back
Having back pain or a “bad back” isn’t a lost cause. There are plenty of daily changes you can make to avoid straining or injuring your back, and to even strengthen that area, and properly stretch and decompress it.
- Stretches: There are much better stretches for the hamstring and the lower back than touching your toes! The best hip/hamstring stretch is laying flat on your back, with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor, and then straightening one leg and pulling it towards your chest gently with your hands.
Another gentle back stretch to try is to lay on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor; then, with your knees together, slowly “windshield-wiper” your knees from side to side, keeping them together. A similar good stretch from this position is to bring both knees up to your chest, feet off the floor, and hug your knees gently into your chest, offering a great stretch for the lower back. Alternatively, you can also just hug one knee at a time to the chest for a gentler version of this stretch. For even deeper stretching and spinal decompression, read about “back traction” below.
- Proper Lifting: When lifting heavier items, it’s always best to bend the knees, drop your bottom low into a squat, grab the item with both hands, and use the strength in your legs to lift the item. If you are picking up something lighter, you can use the “golfer’s” pick up - bend over at the waist, kicking one straight leg up behind you, just like a golfer retrieves his or her ball from the hole after putting. The key when picking something up is to keep the spine straight — this protects it from strain.
- Building Core Muscles: A healthy back comes from a strong core. Working to systematically strengthen your abdominal (transverse abdominis), oblique, and upper and lower back muscles will help to stabilize your back when doing everyday motions like bending, lifting, and twisting. Find an exercise program, videos, or a trainer who can help you focus on solidifying your core muscles to bring stability to your spine.
- Back Traction: One of the best ways to healthily decompress and stretch the spine is through spinal traction. It can be performed by a physical therapist or chiropractor, but it can also be done easily and inexpensively at home with the correct device. Performing back traction every day can reduce pain, improve your posture, relax muscles, and improve mobility.
Try the Fisher Traction Lower Back Device
Fisher Traction’s Back Device is unique in that it offers a Release Strap as part of the device. Pulling the Release Strap intermittently releases the traction pull temporarily to allow your discs to absorb the fluid that has collected around them during traction. The device is also portable, requires no assembly, is lightweight, and comes in at a very affordable price. It is one of the best of the “best things you should be doing for your back!” Read more about our Lower Back Traction Device and find out for yourself how effective traction can be for your back.